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‘Snip the straps’ off face masks as Great British September Clean launches

'Snip the straps' off face masks as Great British September Clean launches

As the Great British September Clean kicks off, we’re urging people to ‘snip the straps’ from disposable face masks, as we reveal that we’ve helped more than 900 animals caught in litter since the start of lockdown.

Dumped face masks have become a new hazard to wildlife since the pandemic started and we’ve received reports of animals tangled in the ear straps of single-use masks since it became law for the public to wear them in shops. One such incident includes a gull who was found to have a face mask tightly round his legs in Chelmsford, Essex.

Despite the face mask causing swelling to his legs, the bird has now fully recovered – but it’s just one example as to how dangerous face masks can be to animals.

This message comes as we back Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British September Clean, which kicks off on 11 September and runs until 27 September.

Since lockdown started on 23 March, we’ve dealt with 938 incidents of animals caught in litter, including tin cans, elastic bands and plastic bottles.

Animals are susceptible to getting tangled up in facemasks

Chris Sherwood, from the RSCPA, said:

For many years the public have been aware of the message to cut up plastic six-pack rings before throwing them away to stop animals getting tangled in them, and now we are keen to get out the message that the same should be done for face masks too – as very sadly, animals are susceptible to getting tangled up in them.

Now that face masks are the norm, and may be for some time to come, this message is more important than ever as thousands of these masks are being thrown away every day. We’re concerned discarded face masks could become a significant hazard, particularly to wild animals and birds.

Our RSPCA officers have had to rescue animals from getting tangled in face masks and we expect that this may go up as time goes on, so the best thing to do is to simply cut the elastic ear straps in half before throwing it away.

Other recent litter-related incidents which we’ve dealt since the start of lockdown with include:

  • A fox who got his head stuck in a plastic bottle in Portsmouth, which resulted in the fox suffering deep cuts to his neck. Thankfully, after treatment at an RSPCA centre, he was released back into the wild.
  • A gull skewered by a kebab stick which had been left on the side of a road in Clifton, Bristol. Sadly the stick was so deeply embedded in the gull that he did not make it.
  • A fox who was found with his head stuck in a large plastic reel in a car park in Littlehampton, East Sussex. The fox was uninjured and was released.